Preaching Stuff you Learn in Seminary

Seminary is a place where the more troublesome aspects of Scripture and history lay, waiting for exposition and exploration. Issues such as pseudepigraphy, tensions in the gospels, and the various problems of inheriting tradition come to mind right off the bat.

However, I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with friends of mine (they know who they are): how do you preach technical issues in Scripture? If a pericope or sentence is disputed, do you preach it like 1 Cor. 14:34-35? If Paul didn’t write the Pastoral Epistles, can you preach on it, based on your view of pseudepigraphy? How does pseudepigraphy relate to inspiration? If Jesus didn’t say anything in the Gospel of John, can you say with sincerity that “Jesus said…”? Its one of the many questions I have, mostly because I’ve not gone through two years of seminary and have preached on most of these issues.

I won’t pretend to solve all of this in a single post, and I invite my preacher friends—gals and guys—to comment on social media with their own perspectives on these issues. For me, I will only offer some insights I have based on my experiences.

Regarding debated portions of Scripture, last year I gave a whirlwind summary of the entirety of 1 Corinthians at my home church. I quite literally went from chapter one to chapter 16. There is a lot of complex and debated material in 1 Corinthians to cover, everything from sexual immorality in ch5-6, gender in ch11 and 14, and so on. I tackled these issues based on my own exegesis of the relevant texts and contexts, and when I came to 14:34-35 I had a bit of a dilemma:

Do I even mention there is a debate about these two verses?

So, without any real hesitation, I delved into the textual issues regarding these two verses and explained to the congregation that these verses were most likely later additions—i.e. an interpolation to the original text, and thus carried no apostolic weight. To my surprise, nobody raised a fuss, and even some people said it made sense to them, based on the rest of the Biblical witness to women in ministry (he specifically cited Junia in Rom. 16:7 as an example).

So, in this one instance, introducing disputed historical debates worked well. It even seemed to encourage the congregation, as it affirmed a basic commitment to Scripture’s integrity. A woman did come up later and ask, but I had my Greek New Testament and was able to show her some critical marks in there, and she was impressed at the veracity of the text.

This is but one situation, and not every situation is comparable. It depends on one’s community, and not every community is open or interested in such debates. To be honest, I’m not entirely certain a pastor should be preaching these issues from her pulpit, unless it is vital to her sermon.

Another instance I recall is when I preached on 1 Cor. 15 and advent. I preached on the nature of destruction, and included my view that human beings are physical creatures that are not souls. In essence, I preached a physicalist or monistic view of anthropology. This seemed to cause some discomfort, but only until I got to the portions of Scripture that talk about SOMA, and I tied this directly to the doctrine of resurrection and the goodness of creation and the body. Then, I could see that the dualistic assumptions on the part of some people washed away and they “got” it. I concluded my teaching sermon on 1 Cor. 15:26 and the destruction of death, which signifies the utter annihilation of the final enemy.

While I did not explicitly teach my view of hell, I was able to use biblical language to describe how Paul viewed the end of evil and wickedness. I then had them verbally read Psalm 110 and when I reread 1 Cor. 15:20-26, their eyes lit up.

I was moved to see their own realization of their own humanness, and some people came up to me later to ask about what “hell” it. It was a teaching moment, and I was challenged, and mentioned that the dominant language in the New Testament signifies destruction. Some of them nodded politely and moved on, and one woman asked me if this meant that nobody would be in hell ever.

I paused, and said, “evil cannot exist in God’s new creation.” That seemed to satisfy her, and the sermon, I’m told, was very well received after that.

So it depends on the context in which you preach. For me, I was able to tackle multiple issues within a very short time, and I fielded questions afterward. Sometimes it wouldn’t help people to know about ancient manuscripts. Sometimes, a Greek word could mean an entire paradigm shift on the part of your community.

Scripture is alive after all, waiting to be taught with the full authority is bears. Be sensitive to the text, and especially be sensitive to your community. When Allison and I taught through the Epistle to the Ephesians, our eyes were opened to the needs of our church, and the critical issues dropped by the side of the proverbial road. We mentioned them, but they did not entirely help our particular conclusions. Sometimes these issues don't help. Sometimes they do.

In any sense, honesty is necessary to good preaching. I was the one kid in church would, upon learning that "hell" existed, pestered my poor youth pastor with questions until he could not longer think straight. While I still harbor some resentment over being ignored and dismissed, I suspect it too was a teaching moment: sometimes the critical issues could save a person's faith. Sometimes, you could be surprised by the complexities of Scripture.


All that Glitters: A Brief Reflection on Wealth in 1 Tim. 6:17

Τοῖς πλουσίοις ἐν τῷ νῦν αἰῶνι παράγγελλε μὴ ὑψηλοφρονεῖν μηδὲ ἠλπικέναι ἐπὶ πλούτου ἀδηλότητι, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ θεῷ τῷ παρέχοντι ἡμῖν πάντα πλουσίως εἰς ἀπόλαυσιν

“To the rich ones in the present age, command them to not be prideful nor to hope upon the uncertainty of riches, but upon God who is presenting to us all things richly for enjoyment.” 1 Tim. 6:17.

I’ve been attempting to write a future Ph.D dissertation proposal, and came across this text in 1 Timothy and it stuck with me. My wife and I are having some financial turbulence and living paycheck to paycheck is always a rough ride. However, in thinking about this text within the pericope in chapter 6, it seems that a disparity between rich and poor is percolating behind the scenes.

See for example:

·      (V.9) “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

·      (V.10) “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

Paul’s concern for the poor has been well documented, especially in recent works by David Downs and Bruce Longenecker. As the articular dative adjective πλουσίοις suggests, the author is directly addressing members of the congregation, this being the wealthy ones. While the poor could indeed own slaves, the context seems to suggest that these rich ones are slave owners (c.f. 6:1-2). Leaving aside the thorny issue of slavery in Paul, the direct address, followed by the imperative παράγγελλε, suggests a possible counter to the brief commentary on slaves in vv.1-2.

The interplay between the adjective and the nouns for “riches” is curious, as the materiality of wealthy is devalued by the author—serving as a “temporal” reality (ἀδηλότητι). Material possession, it is suggested, is limited to this world.

For those of us in turbulent times (as I suspect most of us are), this text bothers me. Not in a negative way per se, but it got under my skin pretty good. What about those who do not have wealth or sustainment?

Well, the answer seemingly lies in v.18, where the rich are enjoined to be “generous” (εὐμεταδότους) with the poor. The futurism mentality of the author shines through here, as this is a rhetorical maneuver to make it ‘appropriate’ for the wealthy to be generous. They give now, so that their futures are bound to eternal life. The poor are thus dependent upon the mandated generosity of the wealthy, which may have interesting implications. Something to chew on, perhaps.

The church, early on, was marked by generosity and the sharing of possessions; here, it seems, it took a little longer for them to get the hang of it. This brings me great comfort that many women and men in the early church were not unlike many of us today (just read the news, hint hint). The statement "into ruin and destruction" (v.9) is surprising. The use of εἰς ὄλεθρον καὶ ἀπώλειαν suggests both a present actuality (poverty resulting in material destruction and even death) and also perhaps eschatological destruction (due to disregard of the body or exploitation therein). In the times I've wondered what it would be like to be rich and have millions of dollars, this text now makes me reconsider those fantasies.

Plus my chances of winning the lotto are like 1 in 2,048,086,421 or something.

While that may not put a comma in my bank account, it does remind me that the poor will always be among us, and that even in our current state, generosity is the name of the game.

There is much more that could be said, but I will leave it there. Just some brief thoughts, nothing more.


Paul's Language of Destruction and the Modern Problem of Hell

This is both a difficult and an easy post to write. The reason it is difficult is because I am talking about Washington D.C., as in, a place I have never been and a place I have no desire to travel to. Joke.

The reason it is easy to write a post like this is because of the nature and use of the language used in the Pauline canon. A quick note regarding sources, only one use of the term under discussion occurs in the so-called ‘Deutero-Pauline’ canon[1] (maybe a post on that is forthcoming, now that I think about it) and that is in 2 Thessalonians (which I take to be Pauline). So the sources I draw from are almost exclusively from the widely accepted Pauline texts.

This is preliminary personal work for a Directed Study I am putting together with some colleagues under the guidance of one Dr. Tommy Givens here at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Paul’s chief vocabulary surrounding the ‘final fate’ of the wicked[2] can be fairly and uncontroversially summarized as follows:

·      ἀπόλλυμι (“destroy, kill, cause violence”) (Rom. 2:12; 1 Cor. 1:18; 10:10)

·      θάνατος (“death”), which is a ἐχθρὸς (“enemy”) (c.f. 1 Cor. 15:26)

·      ὄλεθρος (“destruction”) (c.f. 1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 1:9; 1 Cor. 5:5)

·      ἀπώλεια (“destruction, death”) (c.f. Phil. 1:28; 3:19; 2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim. 6:9[3])

·      φθορά (“ruin, corruption, destruction”) (c.f. Gal 6:8; Col. 2:22; Rom. 8:21; 1 Cor. 15:42, 50)

·      φθείρω (“to destroy, corrupt”) (c.f. 1 Cor. 3:17).

I could list more words and instances of each word, especially from the Synoptic Gospels,[4] but you get the point. There is no mention in Paul of a final conscious state where they are inflicted with torment, nor where they are kept alive in a state of sadness or pain. Under our modern conception of what we popularly call “hell,” we can safely say Paul did not believe in that.

What Paul did believe in, however, is far more personal, intimate, and realistic. So let us explore the first word ἀπόλλυμι in Paul. This will be a little technical, but I hope it will also beneficial to you. I won’t translate every single use of the term or even the entire verse, but only the one’s I find most helpful.

Rom. 2:12

Ὅσοι γὰρ ἀνόμως ἥμαρτον, ἀνόμως καὶ ἀπολοῦνται· καὶ ὅσοι ἐν νόμῳ ἥμαρτον, διὰ νόμου κριθήσονται·                                                                                                            

“For everyone who sins apart from the law, apart from the law they will perish. And everyone who sins in the law will be judged through the law.” (NRQT).

I think an important point that must be made is that many modern Christians too quickly insert the adjective “spiritual” in front of any use of ‘death’ or ‘perishing’ (and I used to count myself amongst those who used this term). Paul is not conceiving of some sort of ‘spiritual’ judgment, for that is simply not historically viable. Here, the use of the future verb ἀπολοῦνται is a reference to a hypothetical person (in the middle tense) of both being destroyed and destroying themselves. “Perishing” is a real concept for people who believe they are bodies, and the problem of death in an ancient culture is real. To “perish” in a Hebraic sense was to go into the ground, to return to dust, to return to “Adam.”

Rom. 14:15.

εἰ γὰρ διὰ βρῶμα ὁ ἀδελφός σου λυπεῖται, οὐκέτι κατὰ ἀγάπην περιπατεῖς. μὴ τῷ βρώματί σου ἐκεῖνον ἀπόλλυε ὑπὲρ οὗ Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν.

The imperative form of the verb is linked to Christ, who ἀποθνήσκω (“died”). This was not a spiritual death, unless one is intent on discounting Nicene Orthodoxy. Rather, Christ died in the fullest sense we can mean. Death, itself, claimed him as its own. The use of ἀπόλλυε serves to remind believers not to cause the “death” or “destruction” of the person for whom Christ died. In a real context of not causing a brother or sister to stumble, Paul has to remind people that what they do with their body (this being in the case of eating things which are ‘unclean’). Believers, in a true and tragic sense, can often be a source of destruction for one another. Ask a burnt out pastor if she feels ‘destroyed’ or ‘distraught’ if she has been the source of ‘stumbling’ or being the one who caused another to ‘stumble.’

1 Cor. 1:18-19.

Ὁ λόγος γὰρ ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῖς μὲν ἀπολλυμένοις μωρία ἐστίν, τοῖς δὲ σῳζομένοις ἡμῖν δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν. γέγραπται γάρ· Ἀπολῶ τὴν σοφίαν τῶν σοφῶν, καὶ τὴν σύνεσιν τῶν συνετῶν ἀθετήσω.

"For the message/word of the cross is folly to those who are being destroyed/perishing. but to the ones being liberated [the cross] is the power of God. For it is written, 'I destroy the wisdom of the wise ones, and the understanding of the experts I reject." (NRQT).

These verses are within a larger commentary (or even assault) on the wisdom of the wise (or the elite, even, possibly because of economic stratification). The λόγος of the cross is silly to those in a state of ἀπολλυμένοις. The middle voice is often thought of as being entirely passive; however, this is not always the case and is likely too narrow. Rather, here, Paul is assuming that people without Christ are in a state of decay, ruin, destruction, and oppression. The cross, as a means of killing Christ, is also the greatest means of resurrection power: that is, life itself. To those in a state of “perishing” or “being destroyed” and “destroying themselves,” this is a meager offering and could even be seen as a cold and calloused bribe: attempting to make someone feel good before they die, or even be viewed as a “charlatan,” attempting to steal or take advantage of them.

Subsequently, the second use of the term refers to the “decimation” of the elitist wisdom offered, and God is putting that wisdom out like a cup over a candle.

 1 Cor. 8:11.

ἀπόλλυται γὰρ ὁ ἀσθενῶν ἐν τῇ σῇ γνώσει, ὁ ἀδελφὸς δι᾽ ὃν Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν.

"And the weak one shall perish because of your knowledge, [this is] for whom Christ died." (NRQT).

This verse is in reference to the perishing of “weak one, brother,” for whom Christ died. As we saw in Rom. 14:15, this is again a context of causing another to stumble. This “perishing” is a very real threat, especially regarding exclusion from the sole community of Christ in Corinth or even within this same community. This similar type of threat may be found in 1 Cor. 5:5 where the exclusion of the incestuous man is likely to lead to his destruction—i.e. his physical death. The contrast between Christ’s own atoning death for the “weak” is highlighted in contrasting the one who is perishing due to the Corinthian elitist hierarchy versus Christ’s own death on behalf of that same weak man.

Thus, this verse is stressing the imperative of Christ-likeness.

1Cor 10:9-10

μηδὲ ἐκπειράζωμεν τὸν Χριστόν, καθώς τινες αὐτῶν ἐπείρασαν, καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν ὄφεων ἀπώλλυντο. μηδὲ γογγύζετε, καθάπερ τινὲς αὐτῶν ἐγόγγυσαν, καὶ ἀπώλοντο ὑπὸ τοῦ ὀλοθρευτοῦ.

"Neither should we test Christ, just as those who tested [him], and were killed by serpents. Do not grumble, just as some of them grumbled once, and were slain by the annihilator/ destroyer."

Paul is offering a commentary (midrash, even) on the story of Israel in the desert. The Israelites who tested Christ[5] were “killed” by the serpents, rendering them – well – dead. Paul uses the imperfect tense to stress the finality of their own death as well as stressing the ancient image: testing YHWH lead to them being destroyed—killed—by serpents. The idea that this word again refers to “spiritual” death is simply not a necessary conclusion one should consider. These people died.

The second use of refers again to the perished ones, but this time they were killed by τοῦ ὀλοθρευτοῦ. This phrase is difficult to translate, but I follow David Instone-Brewer and think “the annihilator” is sufficient. This refers to an utterly destructive force or entity that renders destruction upon a person or a people or a nation. The imagery of death, destruction, even cataclysmic judgment is at the heart of this verse. Death is the ultimate punishment for sin in the Hebrew Bible, and Paul does not seem to move beyond that notion. In the light of Christ as the source of life for those who participate in Him, this notion is stressed far more strongly by Paul.

1Cor 15:18

ἄρα καὶ οἱ κοιμηθέντες ἐν Χριστῷ ἀπώλοντο.

"And then those who have fallen asleep in Christ [have] perished."

This is a relatively simple verse: if Christ did not die (or was not raised!), then those who died in Christ have ultimately perished. There is nothing else for them. Paul does not extrapolate this into a modern systematic outlook of an intermediate state followed by a disembodied existence of bliss. Rather, Christ is bliss if he is raised, and if people do not have the risen Messiah—they are still dead and in the ground.

The natural order, it seems, is controlled and dominated by a foreign imperialistic power: this power is θάνατος and if Christ is not risen, θάνατος reigns. θάνατος is King.

But Christ is risen, then θάνατος is not King anymore. Death as the final destination of the totality of the human person is undone, it is finished, it is annihilated and put out of existence entirely.

2Cor 2:15

ὅτι Χριστοῦ εὐωδία ἐσμὲν τῷ θεῷ ἐν τοῖς σῳζομένοις καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις,

“Because we are the aroma of Christ to God among the ones being liberated, and among the ones being destroyed.” (NRQT).

The sacrificial imagery of our own existence as somatic creature is tinted by the middle participles σῳζομένοις and ἀπολλυμένοις: these two sides are intentionally drawn: Christ is life, all else is death. The liberation offered in Christ is the flipside of the idea of “being destroyed” or “perishing.” The offer of Christ is that of intentionally countering the imperial order of θάνατος. This verse seems to presuppose two sets of people by the direct syntactical parallels:

  • ἐν τοῖς σῳζομένοις
  • καὶ
  • ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις

Preposition + dative plural article + dative middle participle.

This grammatical parallelism supports the contention of two distinction groups highlighted by the order of θάνατος and the order of Χριστοῦ. To be in Christ, or part of Christ’s people, is to place oneself outside of θάνατος’ dominion and sovereignty.

2Cor 4:3, 9

εἰ δὲ καὶ ἔστιν κεκαλυμμένον τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν, ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις ἐστὶν κεκαλυμμένον,

"And if our gospel is being covered, it is being covered among those who are being destroyed." (NRQT).

We have the exact middle participle being employed here as in 2 Cor. 2:15, even the same exact grammatical usage. The image is difficult to communicate in English, but it seems that a “veil” is what Paul utilizes and this applies to those who are also “perishing.” Those who cannot see this are both “veiled” and “veiling themselves” as the middle suggests.

διωκόμενοι ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἐγκαταλειπόμενοι, καταβαλλόμενοι ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἀπολλύμενοι,

"[We are] persecuted but not forsaken; beaten down but not destroyed." (NRQT).

This is a fascinating rhetorical phrase by Paul, all of which is syntactically identical. You have very similar phrasing, suggesting a specific type of speech making. The usages are contrastive, showing dissimilarity and continuity. We are X, but not Y. We are “struck down” but not “destroyed” or “killed.” This language of ἀπολλύμενοι refers likely to external imperial forces, that is, political forces rather than θάνατος. Thus, one can sense martyrdom within Paul’s contextual usage, and it is likely he is focused on the idea of witness and testimony, especially as using their bodies for Christ.

2Th 2:10

καὶ ἐν πάσῃ ἀπάτῃ ἀδικίας τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις, ἀνθ᾽ ὧν τὴν ἀγάπην τῆς ἀληθείας οὐκ ἐδέξαντο εἰς τὸ σωθῆναι αὐτούς·

"And in every deception of unrighteousness [are] the ones being destroyed, because they do not receive the love of truth for their liberation." (NRQT).

The final term is used within a context of persecution, similar to 2 Cor. 4. Paul seems to use the middle participle ἀπολλυμένοις in the sense of a final and doomed assault on those in Christ by those lack the attributes of the Spirit. The final phase of eschatological destruction is the last attempt to rage against the people of God, and this includes political and imperial powers as the one’s who rage. This likely has echoes of God versus Nations in the Hebrew Bible.

In any sense, the use of the term refers to their final death, and not their ‘spiritual’ or ‘existential’ death but to their final and irrevocable destruction. The crucified God who is also the returning King amplifies the paradoxical idea of an oppressive regal force assaulting the minority of Christ-followers in the first century; in the end, this King returns for the oppressed and destroys the oppressors.


Much more could be said about this language and debate, but I think the case is pretty clear: Paul’s use of destruction language does not comport well with the modern vision of Hell we find being taught in the evangelical world. Rather, we see that Paul’s vision is the God of Life being raised from the dead and returning for an oppressed people who are under siege by the order of Death.

Much of this can revolve around how Christians treat one another, and our ability to not cause one another to stumble. In other senses, it is about treating our bodies as things that will be liberated, not escaped from.

In another sense, Paul’s vision offers us a way to view the death of loved ones. We may view death as in the process of being destroyed, and as the final enemy God is working to overthrow. We groan for the liberation of our bodies and for the salvation found in Christ, and Paul’s idea of the final fate shows that “hell” is indeed far more personal, intimate, and realistic: the conquering of Death can only be found in the one who conquered Death.

Thus, I fail to see any notion of an eternal conscious existence of pain and/or misery in Paul’s vocabulary, thought or theology.


[1] That is, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles. However, there is considerable debate regarding the first two and less debate about the Pauline status of the second two. Most critical scholars do not believe Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles.

[2] I prefer the language of “those not in Christ” but I will use the phrase “wicked” simply to keep things simple.

[3] See footnote 1 for the comment about the status of the Pastoral Epistles. I’m withholding my own thoughts on their authorship for now.

[4] For a helpful survey of apollumi in the Synoptic Gospels, see Glenn Peoples:

[5] This may be a nod to preexistence, but not likely.

The Christ Gift: A (Brief) Exegesis of Ephesians 4:7

Ἑνὶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ ἡμῶν ἐδόθη ἡ χάρις κατὰ τὸ μέτρον τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ.

“And each one of us has been given favor according to the content of the gift of Christ” (NRQT).

The language of “gift” in Paul has recently undergone a major overhaul in light of John Barclay’s book, Paul and the Gift. While Barclay’s work centers on χάρις, here I think the use of the genitive construction τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ nicely fulfills Barclay’s proposal: χάρις is better rendered as "gift."

V.7 is the concluding statement of vv.1-7 that comprises a pericope or block of text. Beginning with παρακαλῶ, Paul exhorts his Gentile audience to live into their calling (4:1), and goes on to utilize a (possible) baptismal formula or creed that stresses unity within a corporate community by the repeated use of εἷς (“one”). Paul’s conclusion stems from all urging a community of mutualism and care in one body, and this is “according to the content of the gift of Christ.”

The issue with genitive phrase τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ is whether or not Christ is ‘possessive.’ Is Christ the actual gift given by God, or rather is the gift belonging to Christ, which in turn is given to us? Most translations and commentators render the phrase is the normal sense, “gift of Christ.” For my part, I think it could go either way, especially in light of 5:2 where Christ “hands himself over” (παρέδωκεν) or in the previous phrase in 4:23 where God “granted” (ἐχαρίσατο) to us in Christ. There are many other verses to explore, but the point is that Christ is both object and active agent in Ephesians and there does not appear to be any attempt by Paul to systematize this imagery.

How, then, does this work? I suspect both are true in various respects. Christ is given to us (4:32), and Christ as Messiah and Lord is the one who actively came for us (Phil. 2:6-8). This articular δωρεᾶς harkens back Psalm 68:18 (LXX) where God is the one who ascends the mountain and gives gifts. However, Christ is the one here to seemingly gives gifts, which also include people within the church (c.f. 4:11-12). Thus, I suspect this δωρεᾶς is Christologically oriented and Christ functions as the one who ascends and descends. In the LXX the word for gift is δόματα, a similar word to the one under consideration.

Thus, one could say that Christ is the one who gives gifts, including himself, to the people of God. He does this as the Incarnate Lord, the suffering servant, and as the victor over sin and death.

Most of all, he does this because the Messiah “loved us” (ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς: the aorist tense does not refer to a once and for all act, but to an ongoing state that has no fixed stoppage). Christ’s love and gift are linked together, and we are all called to participate in this “gift.” This 'Christ Gift' includes sacrifice and love as its currency, and for those who are bankrupt, this is indeed good news.